The Difference Between Electric & Semi-Acoustic Guitars

Written by emilio guarino
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The Difference Between Electric & Semi-Acoustic Guitars
A semi-acoustic guitar (cowgirl musician image by Paul Moore from

There are two basic types of commonly played guitars: acoustic and solid body electric. A semi-acoustic guitar (also known as an archtop or hollow body guitar) is essentially a variation of the electric guitar. Instead of having a solid body, there is a resonant cavity in the guitar that changes the tone. These should not be confused with acoustic guitars that have a pickup mounted on the inside. Although both can be amplified, they are different instruments with different tonal characteristics.

Solid Body Electrics

Solid body electric guitars include the iconic Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul. These instruments are constructed of a slim, solid piece of wood, with magnetic pickups and hardware screwed directly into the solid wood. These guitars tend to have a very direct, bright and clear sound. The acoustic volume of these guitar is very quiet and generally not usable, so they must be plugged into an amplifier to be played.

The Difference Between Electric & Semi-Acoustic Guitars
Solid body electric guitar (electric guitar image by Jeffrey Zalesny from

Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic guitars are a much older design than the electric guitar. Their bodies are essentially a wooden box with a hole in the top to let the sound out. The bracing inside the guitar is designed to get as much of the guitar vibrating as possible, and to maximise volume and projection. They are generally played unamplified. However, when amplification is necessary, piezoelectric pickups are almost always used because they will preserve the special character of the acoustic guitar sound.

The Difference Between Electric & Semi-Acoustic Guitars
An acoustic guitar (guitar image by cherie from

Semi-Acoustic Guitars

Semi-acoustic guitars are a hybrid of the electric and acoustic designs. They have a hollow, slim body with two "f" shaped holes to let the sound out, but have magnetic pickups. They produce a quiet, but usable acoustic sound when not amplified. When amplified, their tonal characteristics are similar to an electric guitar, but are generally fatter and thicker in sound.

The Difference Between Electric & Semi-Acoustic Guitars
Grestch semi-acoustic guitar (accoustic guitar image by Chris Edwards from


Of the three types of guitars mentioned, solid body electrics are by far the most durable. Since they are constructed of a thick, solid piece of wood, they can be dropped and hit and still be playable. For this reason, they are generally favoured by touring rock musicians. Semi-acoustic guitars are the most fragile design because they are made from thin, delicate pieces of wood and also have electronics inside.


Despite their fragile design, semi-acoustic guitars are often favoured by jazz, blues, and big band guitar players for their rich, blending tone. In the recording studio, it is common for both the body of the guitar and the amplifier to be miked to give a very sophisticated sound that almost sounds like two people playing at the same time. Some rock musicians do use semi-acoustic guitars, but at rock concert volumes, it is difficult to discern the subtleties of the instrument.

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